A group of 135 cross-party British members of parliament have written to China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom condemning rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and calling for their immediate end.
In a letter to Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, authored by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh and dated Sept. 8, the lawmakers signaled their “extreme concern” over the situation in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
The MPs noted that during an interview with the BBC in July, host Andrew Marr showed Liu purported footage of Uyghur detainees blindfolded, kneeling and shaven, waiting to be loaded on to trains, and suggested it bore similarities to historical footage of Nazi concentration camps.
They also referred to a June 29 report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs that author Adrian Zenz believes may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
“The Chinese Government’s actions must be stated for what they are: a systematic and calculated programme of ethnic cleansing against the Uighur people,” the letter read.
“When the world is presented with such overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses, nobody can turn a blind eye. We as Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom write to express our absolute condemnation of this oppression and call for it to end immediately.”
McDonagh also called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Wednesday’s parliamentary session to “take action” to “stop the ethnic cleansing” of Uyghurs in the XUAR and to lead the organization of an international tribunal to investigate reports of abuses there.
Johnson responded by saying that he and his foreign ministry “raise these concerns directly with the Chinese authorities and will continue to do so” in international fora.
Tuesday’s letter, which was also signed by senior Tories and Liberal Democratic Party leader Sir Ed Davey, represents one of the highest-level condemnations of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang by British lawmakers and comes amidst growing pressure from Western nations on China to end its persecution of Muslims in the region.
Rahima Mahmut, director of the World Uyghur Congress exile group in the U.K., told RFA's Uyghur Service Wednesday that McDonagh's exchange with Johnson at parliament carries "profound significance."
"This proves that the Uyghur issue has reached the highest levels of the U.K. Government," she said, adding that she is hopeful more officials there will "speak as well as act more on behalf of the Uyghur people in the future."
Also on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron responded to a similar letter expressing concerns over abuses in Xinjiang from a group of around 30 French MPs by calling the repression of the Uyghurs “unacceptable” and vowing to condemn it “in the strongest possible terms,” according to a report by the news outlet EURACTIV.
“All these practices are unacceptable because they run counter to the universal principles enshrined in international human rights conventions, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” Macron said, adding that France will “remain fully mobilized on the situation of the Uyghurs.”
Last week in Paris, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeated Beijing’s assertion that claim that all those sent to the camps have been released, telling a conference at the French Institute of International Relations: “Now all of them have graduated, there is no one in the education and training center now. They all have found jobs.”
China has sought to justify its network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” despite reporting by RFA which has found that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
Amid international condemnation and U.S. sanctions, experts believe that China has begun sentencing Uyghurs held in internment camps to prison, providing legal cover to the detentions.
At the end of July, the Trump administration sanctioned the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC) and two of its current and former officials over rights violations in the XUAR.
The move followed similar sanctions that month against several top Chinese officials, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, marking the first time Washington targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are soon expected to announce orders blocking imports of cotton and tomato products, as well as five other imports, from the XUAR over accusations of forced labor.
The move, which would be unprecedented by the agency, is likely to increase tensions between the two nations which have seen bilateral ties fall to new lows in recent months over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, increased restrictions by Beijing on Hong Kong, navigation of the South China Sea, and an ongoing trade war.
On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing in Beijing that the U.S. is using the import bans as a “pretext to oppress Chinese companies” and “destabilize Xinjiang.”
CBP executive assistant commissioner Brenda Smith told Reuters news agency that the effective orders would cover the entire supply chains for cotton, from yarn to textiles and apparel, as well as tomatoes, tomato paste and other regional exports.
“We have reasonable, but not conclusive, evidence that there is a risk of forced labor in supply chains related to cotton textiles and tomatoes coming out of Xinjiang,” she said.
'End to impunity'
A global coalition of 321 civil society groups hailing from more than 60 countries published an open letter Wednesday calling on the United Nations to urgently create an independent international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations, including in the XUAR.
In their statement, the coalition highlighted China’s efforts to distort the mandate of the U.N. Human Rights Council by persecuting activists from China who use U.N. mechanisms to seek redress, and opposing initiatives to bring scrutiny of serious rights violations and international crimes in countries around the world. China typically rejects U.N. consideration of its human rights record as “gross interference.”
John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, said the coalition was "demanding an end to China’s impunity at the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
“The U.N. needs to act on the growing chorus of voices calling for China to be held accountable for its rights abuses,” he said.
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.